One criticism of living agile and other movements that focus on simplicity, like minimalism and lifestyle design, is that you will have too much free time if you succeed in your efforts.
This is nonsense.
Welcome to Throwback Thursday, where we take a look at a past Agile Lifestyle feature that’s still as timely and relevant as ever. This article has been completely updated and expanded with the latest research and information.
The question is usually posed like this:
“What would you do with all that free time?”
What your typical 9-to-5 slave stuck in the rat race means when he or she asks this question is, “If you don’t work 70-80 hour weeks to accumulate material junk for your McMansion, what do you do with your free time?”
Voluntarily downshifting from the fastlane is so utterly foreign to the hyper-competitive corporate ladder-climbing clique that they imagine a life of busyness is the only life worth living.
Let’s ignore for the moment the excessively dim view of human life this type of question presumes and see if we can try to answer it.
Here are some ideas for what to do with all that free time agile living brings you:
1. Increase your autonomy
Autonomy means making decisions for yourself. Autonomy means having relevant, realistic options for living your life.
You cannot have autonomy if you answer to someone else all the time, like an overbearing boss or parent. You cannot have autonomy if you are always paralyzed by analysis. You cannot have autonomy if you are addicted to drugs, drama, adrenaline, destructive relationships, and shopping.
Focusing on autonomy requires free time.
And it’s not easy.
Letting others dictate where you’ll be, what you’ll do, and whom you’ll do it with is a much easier way to live your life. If you are on the treadmill to nowhere, you can rarely see the direction your life is going before it is too late, before you hit that midlife crisis.
Having free time let’s you stop and think. Having free time gives you the opportunity to shed the wrongful lessons you learned as a kid and engage the world in an independent, unbiased way.
2. Increase your personal freedom
Personal freedom means different things to different people.
For some, it means financial independence, like freedom from debt or freedom from relying on a single stream of income.
For others, it means location independence. The freedom from being tied down to one spot or the freedom to go on an adventure at any time.
Whatever your definition of personal freedom, the more free time you have, the more you can concentrate on giving yourself options and taking advantage of opportunities.
All the debts and obligations that you accumulate throughout life do not increase your personal freedom. Instead, they ruin your agility and don’t do a particularly good job of making you happy either.
3. Educate yourself
Education doesn’t happen in institutions and classrooms only. If you are considering going to graduate school, law school, or business school, I want you to do yourself a favor.
Invest in yourself first.
Instead of handing over tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to a university that will promptly waste your money, go get a library card and start researching interesting people in your field who have found their Personal Hedgehog. Then brainstorm some interesting questions and email them. I guarantee you that if even one person responds, you will learn more from that interaction than an entire semester of classroom instruction.
You should never stop learning and evolving. The trick is, you don’t need to pay someone else $40,000 a year to do it. Incorporate new learning into your daily life, put it into action, and iterate on the results. Embracing the agile mindset of kaizen or continuous improvement will ramp up your education more than any classroom lecture will.
4. Help people
You might use corporate jargon like “adding value” or “maximizing utility.” You might just call it helping people. Whatever the case, you have skills that other people need. Find a way to help.
And if you make money along the way, that’s fine too.
The point is that once you free your time, you can figure out the things you really want to be doing. And for most people, this means helping the people, organizations, and causes they care about.
5. Just relax
The people in this video don’t seem to have any issue figuring out what to do with their free time. I didn’t see anyone check their work email once!
6. Reduce your footprint
Free time is a magical thing. You can finally get around to all the important-but-non-urgent priorities you never had time for.
The hectic busywork of everyday life doesn’t lend itself to improving your agility. Free time helps you get lean.
The Japanese have a word, muda, that roughly translates to “waste” in English.
Toyota rose to dominance in the latter part of the twentieth century by applying lean principles throughout its organization, including a nearly obsessive focus on eliminating muda wherever they could find it.
What works in business can work for you in your personal life.
Muda is spending precious time and energy on activities that don’t create value in your life. Muda is correcting mistakes that never should have been made in the first place. Muda is expending burnout-level effort to salvage a project when even a tiny amount of preparation beforehand could have prevented it.
How much of your life is devoted to accumulating, maintaining, and otherwise dealing with muda?
How freeing would it be to reclaim even one hour a week? How about two?
The beautiful thing about free time is that it creates its own self-sustaining virtuous cycle: Efforts to free up your time create more free time for you to come up with ways to free up your time!
7. Create space for reflection
If you believe being overly busy and overextended is evidence of productivity, then you probably believe that creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum. Yet these very activities are the antidote to the non-essential busyness that infects so many of us. Rather than trivial diversions, they are critical to distinguishing what is actually a trivial diversion from what is truly essential.
Carving out time and space for rejuvenating activity is crucial for holistic productivity. The solution isn’t to discard the practice. Indeed, the answer is to make space and schedule time for reflection:
Here’s another paradox for you: the faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.
How many of us are stuck in the lives we created for ourselves?
Could an increased focus on self-reflection and closing the personal feedback loop help bridge this gap between what we want and what we do?
Ultimately, Free Time is Okay
If you live agile, having some free time to reflect and give yourself feedback is important. If you’ve become addicted to the adrenaline rush of constant deadlines, emails, and deliverables, it’s time to set aside these destructive dependencies.
When you are in charge of your own time, you could very easily replace all the busywork you previously did for someone else with busywork that you make for yourself.
Don’t do it.
Free time is okay.
Sleep in. Read a book. Love your family and friends.
At the end of your life, you will not regret all that so-called free time. You will regret all the extra hours you spent at the office ignoring the people you love.
What to Do With All That Free Time? The Same Thing You Do With Your Other Time
In the end, “free time” is a misnomer. The concept of free time assumes there is an equal and opposite “unfree time” that occupies the larger part of your life.
Fill your life with meaningful work, love, and fulfillment and there will be no such thing as “unfree time” and thus, no need for the idea of free time.
Time is time. Cherish it.
A version of this post first appeared on July 3, 2012.